MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - The Pakistan-based chief of a militant alliance fighting for an end to Indian rule in divided Kashmir openly condemned on Wednesday a crackdown by the Pakistan government against another group India blames for an attack on an air base.
Syed Salahuddin, the chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC), an alliance of pro-Pakistan militant groups based in the Pakistani-administered part of the divided Kashmir region, had claimed responsibility for the assault in Pathankot on Jan. 2.
The claim of responsibility was met with a sceptical response among India’s security establishment, which blames another group called Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Last week, Pakistan arrested the head of Jaish-e-Mohammed as well as several other leaders of the group and shut down offices and seminaries linked to the outfit.
“We are at a loss to understand whether they (the Pakistan government) are concerned about the interests of the country that feeds them or that of its enemy?” Salahuddin told a news conference, referring to the government’s crackdown.
“Pakistan is not only an advocate but also a party to the longstanding Kashmir dispute and therefore the Pakistani people, government and media should play the role of a patron rather than of an adversary.”
Salahuddin’s public comments could cause further tensions between the two nuclear armed rivals, with New Delhi accusing Islamabad of tolerating groups openly hostile to India.
He spoke at the Press Club in Muzzafarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir. Police outside the club made no move to arrest him.
Following the Jan. 2 attack on the Indian air base, the United Jihad Council had warned that their attacks “can engulf all of India” if the issue of Kashmir’s divided rule is not resolved.
Since the attack in Pathankot, Pakistan has said it is clamping down on Jaish-e-Mohammed, which India has long accused Pakistani authorities of tolerating, while it investigates Indian assertions that the attack was the work of the militants based in Pakistan.
India has demanded that Pakistan take action against the group and last week announced that the two countries would reschedule talks between their foreign ministers while the investigation into the air base attack was carried out.
Jaish-e-Mohammed militants are blamed for a 2001 attack on India’s parliament that nearly led to a war between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik Editing by Jeremy Gaunt